According to National Geographic’s 2014 documentary, Sleepless In America, the average American sleeps just 6.5 hours each night, with 40% of all U.S. adults sleeping less than 6 hours per night, and many more getting less than 5 hours throughout the week—this despite The National Sleep Foundation’s recommendation of at least 7-9 hours per night for adults.
What does this data imply for our overall health and well-being as a society?
Well, being chronically sleep deprived can lead to a whole host of problems for us—cognitively, behaviorally, and metabolically.
The effects of habitual sleeplessness include:
- Impaired judgment
- Lapses in attention
- Delayed reaction timing
- Decreased ability to store and process memories
- Decreased ability to regulate emotions, including increased aggression
- Decreased ability to think creatively
- Decrease in insulin sensitivity
- Increased risk for depression and Alzheimer’s
- Increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity
- Increase in blood pressure and cortisol production
- Increase in systemic inflammation, which can increase your risk for cancer.
The ramifications of all this are pretty overwhelming, and the fact that so many of us are not only putting our long term health and longevity in grave danger but walking around on a daily basis performing sub-optimally is startling— and, to be quite honest, extremely terrifying.
It’s very sad and disheartening to me that, in our culture, sleeping adequately is associated with being lazy.
Many of us think that if we sleep less, we’ll get more done.
From Nas’ famous line in N.Y. State Of Mind, that “sleep is the cousin of death,” to our 45th President claiming to only “need” 4 hours per night—this mind-set has pervaded through every nook and cranny of our society.
Unfortunately, and according to the studied effects of sleep deprivation listed above (as well as Trump’s performance in office thus far), the data just doesn’t coincide with that mentality.
If you want to look, feel, and perform your best—in all aspects of your life—you must prioritize sleep at all costs.
The following tips will help you maximize your sleep and, in turn, maximize your life.
Get sunlight first thing in the morning: Sun exposure early in the day helps prime your circadian rhythm via the body’s optical and photo receptors. Aim for at least 20 minutes without sunglasses and with as much of your skin exposed as possible.
Train in the morning: Cortisol, the stress hormone, should peak in the morning and decrease gradually as the day progresses. Intense physical activity causes the body to release cortisol and, if timed properly, can help you synchronize your hormone cycle. Because cortisol has an inverse relationship with melatonin, a powerful hormone involved in sleep regulation, morning exercise has been shown to help spur on nightly melatonin production, facilitating the central nervous system’s transition into para-sympathetic (rest and recovery) mode and encouraging more efficient sleep cycles.
Limit caffeine consumption to earlier in the day: Aim for no more than 2-4 cups of coffee daily (200-400 mg of caffeine), and cut yourself off at least 6-8 hours before bedtime.
Have starchy carbs with dinner: Carbohydrate consumption helps signal the brain to produce serotonin, a precursor to melatonin. By including a moderate serving of starch—a potato or a cup of rice, for instance—you will induce the brain’s serotonin production and ensure a natural melatonin release.
Finish eating 2-3 hours before bedtime: Eating too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep cycle, as some people may experience a hypoglycemic response after a meal, and this drop in blood sugar can wake you up, or, at the very least, disrupt the quality of your sleep.
Avoid alcohol with dinner: While it may be true that a moderate dose of alcohol before bedtime may help you fall asleep faster, studies have shown that alcohol consumption before bed reduces REM sleep, negatively impacting the overall quality of your slumber and leaving you less rested in the morning.
Avoid the use of electronics 2 hours before bedtime: The blue light emitted from your computer monitor, television and cell phone screen stimulates your brain and nervous system into thinking that it’s daytime. In fact, studies have shown that for every hour spent being exposed to blue light after sunset, serotonin production is suppressed by 30 minutes. If you must be on the computer, download f.lux, a software that pulls out the disruptive blue light from your monitor; and if you have to use your cell phone, use the “Twilight” function for Android, or “Night Shift” for the iPhone.
Supplement with Magnesium: Magnesium is one of the most common minerals on earth and is involved in over 600 cellular reactions throughout the body. It plays a central role in helping the body relax and repair itself after a hard day’s work, as well as help to regulate the production of melatonin. Unfortunately, because the soil is so depleted in magnesium, most of the food we eat is devoid of this beneficial mineral—it is estimated that up to 80% of Americans are deficient. Therefore, the best way to ensure you get an optimum amount is through supplementation; I recommend using a trans-dermal spray, like Ease Magnesium. It’s 100% bio-available and is absorbed through the skin completely within 90 seconds of application—18 sprays across the entire body should do the trick for most people.
Alongside nutrition, sleep is probably one of the single greatest factors contributing to (or taking away from) our overall health and wellness—even more so than exercise.
If you are committed to improving your life in any way, shape, or form, and sleep is not a priority, you are setting yourself up for failure in everything else that you do.
Let’s face it: life is hard and demanding sometimes.
Every now and then we are forced to burn the midnight oil and sacrifice our time spent under the covers—but, if you are consistently getting less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep per night, make no mistakes about it: you are setting yourself up for sup-optimal mental and physical performances in the short term, and for detrimental health complications in the long.
Do whatever it takes to get more sleep.
Whatever it is you have to sacrifice now to accomplish this task will pay off in dividends for you in the future.